7.4.15

Ten Times Thirteen

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Well, folks, this is the moment you can feel officially old.

Or a ridiculously new immigrant to the Anarchic Republic of Buck-Tickistan, as the case may be.

Why? Because that bloody melancholic frilly vampire smorgasbord of succulence, 十三階は月光, is ten years old today. Hard to believe than an album which, last time I checked, had only come out five minutes ago, is now a dark wine red thread in the flag of Buck-Tickistan's history.

And speaking of history, for those of you who hadn't already figured it out, a tidbit - Anarchy wasn't the first Buck-Tick work to be influenced by Russian art.  In fact, the plot for the 13kai wa Gekkou stage play was based loosely on the famous Russian ballet Petrushka, with music by Igor Stravinsky. Petrushka tells the story of three puppets, Petrushka the Clown, the Ballerina, and the Moor, who are brought to life by a puppeteer (the Magician) at the Shrovetide Fair in St. Petersburg - a carnival analogous to Mardi Gras, preceding the religious fasting season of Lent. The Magician wows the crowd by bringing the three puppets to life, and the audience watches the development of a tragic love triangle: awkward, shy Petrushka loves the Ballerina, but the Ballerina is only interested in the macho, handsome Moor. When Petrushka interrupts a love scene between the Moor and the Ballerina, the Moor chases Petrushka down and kills him with one stroke of his scimitar. The audience is horrified and summon the police, but the Magician shakes his head and reminds them all that Petrushka is, after all, only a puppet. But! When night falls and the carnival is over, Petrushka's ghost is seen rising above the Magician's theater. When the Magician sees the taunting ghost, he is overcome with fear and runs away. So...who's real, and who's the puppet? When you die, are you really dead, or is it only a play?

If you're curious about Petrushka, you can watch the whole thing here.


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Buck-Tick's music may have little in common with Stravinsky, but Sakurai dealt with similar themes on 13kai, especially in songs like "Doukeshi A" and "Alive." In fact, the whole album is full of scenes that call to mind scenes in the ballet - "Goblin" could easily be a dance from a debauched carnival, while the grave, bombastic solemnity of "Passion" is reminiscent of the original iconic Alexandre Benois set design for Petrushka's room - a cold night sky filled with glittering stars over a jagged mountain range of icebergs. "Muma" certainly fits with the theme of the tortured spirit, flying over the snowy wastes of Siberia.

According to interviews, Sakurai took charge of most of the action and stage direction for the accompanying 13th Floor with Diana tour, but his re-imagining of the story is clearly a bit different from the original Petrushka ballet. In Buck-Tick's version of the story, there's no Moor in sight (probably a good thing, given the unpleasant racial implications of the character in this day and age). Rather, the Magician and the Clown become two alter-egos for Sakurai - as a performer, part of him is the storyteller, the one in control, while part of him is a puppet, a pawn, used and cast aside by the story itself, enslaved to his audience in that while he's onstage, he lives for the crowd, not for himself, doomed to subvert his own needs to do anything within his power to get the audience to laugh (or cry, as the case may be).  Over the years, this theme has cropped up again and again in Sakurai's work, in songs like "Taiyou ni Korosareta," "Kirameki no Naka de," and "Itoshi no Rock Star," but it returns powerfully in "Doukeshi A." After all, what does the "A" stand for, anyway? Methinks it's someone's initial.

"Doukeshi A" is the philosophical heart of the album, but Sakurai returns to this idea of doubles again and again in later songs. "Cabaret" may ostensibly be a dialogue between a male and female voice, but it comes across more like a fight between the angel on your right shoulder and the devil on your left - purity or corruption? Honestly or madness? Chastity or debauchery? I can't help but hear a lady-protests-too-much tone in the female voice, as if she's trying to deny her own desires even to herself, but can't help what she truly wants...and it's dark and sexual as hell.


"Ijin no Yoru" underscores a different kind of ambivalence, a fear of not knowing one's purpose, not knowing where to go, of being left behind. The song wallows in a kind of aesthetic amnesia in a sequence of dreamlike images of silence and emptiness, summer dying and everyone leaving, before ending with its two simple but resonant questions: "Who are you, say, who? Who am I, say, who?" There's no answer here.


But by the time "Doll" rolls around, Sakurai has gone from being the puppet to being the puppeteer, the Magician pulling the Ballerina's strings to make her dance. On the surface, "Doll" is a silly song, a comedic interlude between heavier numbers, and yet, the underlying theme is surprisingly dark. After all, the doll brought to life as the perfect woman has no soul of her own - she's merely a projection of the frustrated desires and fantasies of her creator. The living doll theme calls to mind another famous ballet, Coppelia, about a young man who foolishly falls in love with a life-sized dancing doll created by a mad inventor. You can watch some of Coppelia below.



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And as a side note on "Doll," I'd also like to mention that the five-note sequence repeated throughout the song, which I originally believed was a nod to Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera (not my favorite piece of music ever), is in fact nothing of the sort. In fact, it's an overt reference to the fiendishly catchy riff from "Boule (Viens Ici)!" the 1984 cult hit by French New Wave pioneers Ptôse. How do I know this? Because Imai played more or less the entire Ptôse tribute album as background music for the Anarchy hall tour last year, and this song, in particular, stood out a mile (it's a cover of the original Ptôse version, from the tribute album.) Listen to it and see what I'm talking about!


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Anyway, this is all by way of saying that there's a lot more to 13kai wa Gekkou than may come across at first listen. I didn't honestly like the album much when it first came out - it was too much of a departure from the throbbing electronic acid-soaked psychedelic cyberpunk sounds of the decade between Six/Nine and Mona Lisa Overdrive, and uncomfortably close to Gothic Lolita, to an extent that, at the time, felt dangerously like cheap pandering to visual kei teenyboppers...and from Buck-Tick, I expected better.

However, listening to this album again and again over the years, the context for the release has fallen away a bit, and I've come to appreciate its true originality as a musical work - it manages to simultaneously traverse and touch on the whole history of goth music while copying none of it, gelling into a record packed with an impressively diverse array of songs and sounds that nonetheless fit together as elegantly as the acts of a ballet. Hell, even "Muma -the Nightmare-" works in context, though after hearing it OUT of context five hundred billion zillion times at every live show ever, I can't help it - I'd really like to run it through with a scimitar.

It's also worth noting that Buck-Tick gained a lot of new fans with the release of 13kai, particularly overseas. Though the band received scant attention on the overseas j-rock internet up until 2005, the release of Romance gained them a huge horde of fans among the overseas goth-loli crowd, many of whom were still pining for a good gothic fix after the breakup of Malice Mizer and were eager to attach themselves to a new gothically inclined band, especially a band fronted by such a delectable lacy, frilly vampire as Gothique Prince Acchan-chan. Judging by the complaints I heard from them upon the release of Tenshi no Revolver ("no balls," "not goth enough," "Buck-Tick should return to their original 13kai sound!") I suppose many of those one-time fans are long gone, and seeing as they clearly didn't really understand the band to begin with I suppose it's not much of a loss (just imagine, saying "no balls" to Mr. No Underwear)...but who knows, perhaps a few of them are still around.  If 13kai wa Gekkou was your introduction to Buck-Tick, please leave a comment below!

...and then, reach your hand over your shoulder and give yourself a pat on the back, for having been a Buck-Tick fan for ten whole years.

Ten fucking years!

If that doesn't make you feel old, it should!

So, what's a Buck-Tick fan to do?

Perhaps, you could ignore it, like Imai's doing...


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Or, like Toll, you could stare at it morosely without quite meeting its eyes.

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Then again, you could always take a different tactic, and peer lecherously up under its skirts, as Yutaka and #SexyBeastHide are doing at this moment...




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...but I think, if you want to be well and truly Buck-Tickistani, you need to sink your teeth into its juicy flesh, and drink to the last drop. Acchan-chan knows how to do goth, and how!














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So happy Triskadecamas, everyone! Put on your curly-toed shoes and your clown makeup, light the candles, and if you're feeling extra-specially excited, you can even accidentally-on-purpose spill some candle wax on yourself while dancing to the masochism tango! This holiday only ever comes once in a full lunar eclipse, so celebrate it with your friends, celebrate it with your pets, celebrate it with your doll! Pop her up on the piano and serenade that senorita with romance and passion, just like an old-fashioned cabaret! You know you want to.


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P.S. Speaking of Coppelia, some real goth-loli for y'all. Ali Project are the real and true pioneers of goth-loli, Kokushoku Sumire, eat your hearts out.



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20 comments:

  1. Kind of fun that you posted this because for the past 2 days I've watched the 13th floor with Diana DVD XD
    However I'm not a 10year old fan of buck-tick, more like 2 years (stands in a corner of shame), but 13 kai wa gekkou was the album which caught my attention (I love Muma and curse that I didn't get to see it live during their past tour)

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  2. Thank you! I didn't know any of the ballets before so probably wouldn't find the connection myself. And knowing all this, everything makes more sense now.

    It's also a funny coincidence how recently I figured out how many of my favourite lyrics share the theme of what in art is real, what is magic or illusion or, well, acting. My first thought reading about Petrushka's ghost was "What if it's not an actual ghost but the pupeteer's remorse after killing off a favourite doll" which fits well into Sakurai being both the clown and the magician. Maybe I actually understand him better than I thought, which feels kind of weird.

    Happy Triscadecamas to you too! And thank you once more!

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  3. What a fun read!
    13th Floor was what made me a Buck-Tick fan and it was Muma, which made me search out B-T. I also came to Japan to hear Muma, but didn't get it though. Still, I have no complaints, I got a lot of other songs and Nocturne-Rain Song lives on as the most memorable B-T song I heard Live, so far.
    I didn't catch 13th Flr at its debut but after the fact. By the time, I found 13th Flr, B-T was at the point of releasing Memento Mori, but hey, one of my all time favourites "Coyote' is in that album and so is "Galaxy". :-D

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    1. Next person who talks about how awesome Muma is gets pelted with virtual rotten tomatoes. I don't care who you are. I have the tomatoes and I know how to use them.

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    2. Heh! I do have a 6 foot human shield who does have a mean right arm to hide behind! :-D. Though seriously first time I ever saw Muma performed was not in the 13th Flr video clip but the Parade Fest 2007. My first thought after the er...how awesome the song was, was what a darned good looking guy the vocalist was and what a ridiculously horrible costume he was wearing. That was one major costume fail of epic proportions! Good thing, right after that I found the rest of 13th Floor, Romance PV and Misty Blue video clip!

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  4. Wow, awesome post, thanks ;)
    I think you already now it was pretty much unpossible for me to be a fan of B-T back then since I hadn´t even been into Japan yet in 2005.
    But I agree that Ali Project are the true pioneers of Gothic Lolita.
    Here is a really underrated song by them. Coincidentally, it is called "Coppelia No Hitsugi" ;) (The original version is way better, though. Youtube sucks for deleting all the good vids all the time) :
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lAhWaq77Vs

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    1. "Coppelia no Hitsugi" is Ali Project's most famous song, since it was used as the theme for the anime Noir. I didn't post it here because I couldn't find a live video and I wanted to post a video with the actual band. Plus, the above video combines Gothic Lolita with gyrating naked men, which is something the younger generation deny vehemently which makes this particular video all the more amusing.

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    2. Oh really? I suppose it should be among their most popular songs if it´s an opening song, but strangely, I couldn´t find many people on the internet talking about it or listing it as their favorite song by Ali Project =O

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    3. Maybe they're all too young to remember it.

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  5. In 2009 I became a fan of BT after seeing the PV of Romance. 13Kai became my favourite album since I was still a Gothic Lolita back then. I'm not a Gothic Lolita anymore but I still very much love BT! 13Kai is still special to me, the extra insight you gave to it is very interesting. ^^

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  6. Thank you for all the info you have provided to us!I'm a rather new fan so I need all I can get and when I find these kind of things, I "devour" them. P.S. I agree with you on the Muma thing. I think it's a very atmospheric song that only has meaning in the right context. It's very powerful and somber but in the right place (like in the live tour of 13kai) it's perfect.

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    1. It's not actually a bad song in and of itself, I just don't think it's that strong compared to the band's other work. Certainly not the best song on the album by any means. And it's so repetitive that when you hear it over and over at live shows, it gets boring immediately. It should be retired.

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  7. Dear Cayce,

    I thank you for writing so many amazing post like this one here. I bow to your awesomeness *bow*.

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  8. Interesting the baleto I did not know it. I like always many things at the same time with some preferencess to be top depending on the time. That is why I like more buck tick they are many things and all are interesting. I might find gothik interesting depending on time.
    Can I ask something ? I am thinking this question for very long time. What is the reason you are against lolita ? Has maybe happen something you see with your own eyes ? The act of the people ? I am really curious .
    Personally I know lolita for some years and I find it interestig the reason is propably because I depending the mood find many different things interesting . And I am usually wearing pants .
    And of corse I know lady Arika . I think that is admirable . I might even know heard first befoore even buck tick .

    Sorry if you can not understand anything from bad english but I need to go and sleep and my brain eyes and hands do not work good right now.

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    1. I'm not "against" lolita. I don't hate lolitas or think that lolita, as a phenomenon, should cease to exist. Far from it. If lolita were to vanish from the earth, I wouldn't be able to make fun of lolitas anymore!

      As for why I make fun of them, it's mainly because they're so self-serious all the time. You would think that dressing up like a cupcake and playing weepy violin odes to glittery gay vampires would require a sense of humor, but apparently, in Loliland, humor is against the law. Therefore I like to traffic some humor in illegally.

      As for Kokushoku Sumire, I simply think they lack all musical talent and therefore don't deserve to share the stage with B-T. Even if they took of their silly dresses, if their music stayed the same, I wouldn't like them any better.

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    2. Thank you very much for answering .
      Well , humor is a good .
      I think that I might not have understood yet some things that you said .
      I agree that kakoshoku sumire is not that good for to hear . And of coures Buck Tick and them belong different class levels. For example I heard the songs Victims of Love and Doll at the live and I can not say that the violin for example of the one lady , it did not make me feel a bad sad feeling as the voice of the other lady who was singing . At the same time hearing the voice of mister Sakurai I always feel that I enjoy it because it brings quality to live . And also the others music played beautiful .
      And as for the clothes they wear there , they could be a lot more better than this .

      In the prevous message I talked about lady Arika the singer of Ali Project .

      Also something that I have been thinking to ask for a lot more time than the prevous question . In Buck Tick lives what are the ages of the people who go there ? What age was the youngest one who have you seen gothere ? With parents in case of young age but also older alone . What age was the oldest one you have seen ?Of course if you can answer ,not exactly but around what you think .
      Also a new question that I just thought. Have you aver seen ladies to wear lolita clothes in the Buck Tick lives ?

      Thank you .

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    3. If you want to learn more about Buck-Tick live shows, I suggest you read some of my live reports over in the Live Reports section of This is NOT Greatest Site. However, in a nutshell - crowds at Buck-Tick shows are all ages. I've seen everyone from parents with little kids up through old white-haired ladies, though the average age is late 30's to early 40's, because those were the people who grew up with the band and have been following them since their debut. The age range for hall tours tends to be wider than for standing tours, since the crowds at standing tours get violent so it's not necessarily a good experience for small children or older people who want to take it easy. As for lolita clothes, there are always some lolitas in the crowd, though they're also always heavily outnumbered by goths and industrial punk types.

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  9. Since, I decided to live under a rock for 8 months, it's time for me to do some catching up with this blog. Yay!

    Anyway, I feel old with this post. The first full-length album I heard from BT was 13-kai wa Gekkou (though I mostly heard songs from Tenshi no Revolver before album-hopping). I have to say, I did not like it as much as I hoped I would (I leaned towards their 90's and early 00's albums). However as time passed by, I've learned to appreciate it better through reading the stories behind it, musically and lyrically. Visually, I think it is really a gothic eye candy even though I wasn't taken with the Romance PV the first time I watched it. The first songs I've liked from the album were Diabolo, Passion and Ijin no Yoru. When I first of Muma, I actually hit next almost immediately. I never thought it would be a fan fave. Hahaha

    On gothic lolitas, there was a time I was interested in it. But it's more of an interest in fashion, rather than music. It was just a passing interest and didn't develop into anything, but it's good to know the about the pioneers of the goth-loli.

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    1. Oh bless you, sweet friend, for hating Muma as much as I do.

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  10. Thank you for the great anniversary article, I would never have known Petrushka or Coppelia without reading this, listening to Buck-Tick (and reading your blog) is literally cultural education. And the Buck-Tick pictures you posted are priceless ;)

    By the way, I don't see anything wrong with Gothic Lolita with gyrating half-naked men, the younger generation are getting surprisingly conservative.

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